The American Tinnitus Association (ATA) posted a letter on its website, commenting on the Veterans Administration (VA) proposed rule that may shrink payments to veterans for disorders that include tinnitus and sleep apnea (Schedule for Rating Disabilities Docket Number VA-2022-VBA-0009, February 15, 2022).
An excerpt appears below:
On scientific and ethical grounds, the ATA strongly opposes the VA proposed rule that would eliminate tinnitus as a stand‐alone disability by linking it to hearing loss for purposes of disability benefits. The proposal would deny benefits to Veterans who have tinnitus unless they have hearing loss that is not compensable. Veterans with tinnitus and compensable hearing loss would not receive benefits for their tinnitus. This proposed change would effectively diminish tinnitus as an independent condition, which is debilitating – separate from hearing loss – for millions of people, while substantially reducing the future number of Veterans with tinnitus eligible for benefits. Over time, the proposed change would lower VA numbers for tinnitus as a disability, without meaningfully addressing the needs of Veterans suffering with tinnitus, which continues to grow. Because the proposed change does not reflect current scientific understanding of the condition and research (https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/27995315/), it appears to be a blatant attempt to reduce costs at the expense of our Veterans with tinnitus who depend on and deserve disability benefits.
The letter written by ATA Board Chair David Hadley goes on to cite that over 2 million veterans receive service-related disability for tinnitus as of 2020, making it the “leading disability” for veterans after hearing loss. Tinnitus, on a standalone basis, is also linked to sleep disturbance, anxiety, depression, and concentration, the ATA says. Hadley concludes by noting:
It is imperative to note that VA hospitals do not currently have adequate tinnitus clinical services available, which means Veterans need to get services elsewhere, or they languish without appropriate care and support.
There is valuable ongoing Federal, state and private research into the causes of tinnitus and potential cures. Tinnitus must continue to be a stand‐alone disability so that research for cures and better treatments can continue based on accurate data about the number of Veterans suffering with tinnitus. By arbitrarily linking tinnitus to hearing loss disability, the number of tinnitus sufferers eligible for disability benefits would drop even though the problem remains. That is akin to deliberately sweeping a significant problem stemming from military service under the rug.
Again, from a scientific and ethical standpoint, it is wrong to categorize tinnitus within a hearing loss disability. The American Tinnitus Association strongly urges you to continue tinnitus as a stand‐alone disability. Our Veterans deserve no less.
To read the letter in its entirety, please click here.
More on Veterans and Hearing Loss: